The Great Divide
Awhile ago, I mentioned to someone that I’d do a blog on HBCU’s and my experience with them. Firstly, let me preface this entry with this: I have been in college in some form or fashion since the summer of 2000. This extensive college career spanning 2 undergraduate degrees and two different universities has lead me to both an HBUC as well as the majority counter part. As such, my views pertain not to HBCU’s vs. Majority schools in general, but to the two schools to be later mentioned.
Now that all of that’s out of the way, I would like to start out by saying that I whole-heartedly expected my experience at the majority school to be FAR better than at the HBCU. Why? Well, the State of Mississippi appropriates (through the IHL) 58% more money to Mississippi State University (the majority school) than it does to Jackson State University. (the HBCU). If you do the math, the state spends approximately $5228 per student at for the 8000+ students at JSU. For the 16,000+ students at MSU, the state spends $9013 per student. Given that, and the fact that MSU gets more private donations through families and the like than JSU does (MSU got about $40m, where JSU got around $3.5m), I automatically assumed that the level of education would be immensely better at JSU.
Well, you know what they say about assuming.
Sure, the state spends more money per student at MSU, but does more money really equate to a better education? I submit that it doesn’t. Why? Well, no matter how high-tech or up-to-date your classroom building or lab is, it really boils down to who you hire to teach. It’s the face-to-face communication that really determines the level of education received. It’s in this department Mississippi State lacks greatly. My particular experience is with the Electrical and Computer Engineering department (ECE). This department is one of the smaller engineering departments at MSU, but it is widely known throughout the country for producing sharp, young engineers. Most of the students who are fresh to MSU and to the ECE program have a relitively simple first two years (English, math, biology/chemistry, etc.) It’s in the thrid and fourth years (when they typically get to their ‘major’ courses) that most students hit ‘the wall’. It’s also when most students get to meet for the first time the professors who teach in ECE.
There are a few good ones there, some fresh out of the Ph.D program, and others have a few more teaching years under their belt, but as the old saying goes, a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch. In the case of MSU, these bad apples take the form of Dr. Robert Reese and Dr. J.W. Bruce . It not so much that these two gentlmen are bad people, but in general, they are bad teachers, which, as stated above, I do believe to be essential to a productive collegiate carreer. Both of these professors have tenure (a subject that I have written about here before), and thus cannot be fired due soley to ‘poor performance’. In fact, I do believe the performance ratings for both of these gentlemen to be rather high…just not in undergrad where they teach most of their classes. Both teach grad courses as well, and both, supposedly, are fiercely devoted to their research first, and their grad students second. As you can imagine, this leaves the bulk of the undergrad students at a severe disadvantage, as both men are hardly ever at office hours, and rarely in a mood to talk when they are (this info comes to me second hand from various, diverse sources).
In stark contrast, the teachers at JSU, while being paid less then their MSU counterparts, seem to be more willing to answer questions (both in and out of prescribed class hours) and are generally more accessable then the aformentioned MSU professors. Again, more money does not always equate a better education. Obviously, paying more for better teachers greatly inhances the learning process, but again, it comes down to the teacher in the class room and their willingness (or unwillingness in some cases) to ‘go the extra mile’, as it were, for their students.
While we’re on the subject of money, I would like to revisit the Mississippi IHL. For starters, the governing body of the IHL, it’s board of director’s, has the main task of overseeing all of the state’s financial obligation to the 8 public school within Mississippi. It might be trivial to some that MSU gets fully 58% more than JSU, however, I see it as no consequence that the same Board of Trustees the chooses to short JSU on funds is made up of primarily white people (8 white members to 3 black members of the board). Of those 8 white people 7 of them are males and 6 of those 7 are over the age of 50. This puts a large majority of the Board of Trustees of the IHL in certain demographic section of the population. Given the geographic location of these people (many of them born and raised right here in Mississippi), it is easy to see where the disparity comes from. It is no secret that JSU has continually lobbied the IHL to ‘even the playing field’ when it comes to budgeting money for many years now. It’s also no little secret that of the 11 members of the IHL, only 2 have ever attended an HBCU. Eight of the remaining 9 members of the Board attended either Ole Miss, MSU, or USM.
This begs the question “Why does the State of Mississippi choose to discriminate against its 3 HBCU’s?” The answer is simple: in the state where whites had the best education and blacks had next to nothing, the last generation of people to experience that great divide are now in control. Old habits die hard, and some deep-seeded beliefs have lead to improper budgeting on the state’s part. Some may argue that “Ya’ll have won the Ayer’s case”; and to that, I would say ‘Yes, we did. But they want us to sell our souls to see the money’.
Let me say, here and now, that even though we won the ruling, the outcome was still a joke. $150m+ split between 3 universities over 20 years is supposed to equate to an adequate ‘We’re sorry’ from the State of Mississippi for underfunding African American education from the end of slaver until the early 1990’s? What complete joke. On top of that, for JSU to see the money, we have to increase ‘non-black undergraduate enrollment’ by 20%. Which means that JSU has to somehow court upwards of 1600 ‘non-black’ students in order to see one red cent of the Ayer’s settlement. There are also talks of disolving JSU altogether and making it the ‘University of Mississippi at Jackson’.
We are being robbed blind of one of the few things African Americans in this region and in this state can be proud of, and it’s all due to the fact that a bunch of old white people can’t get past their personal feelings and set things strait. Make no mistake about it. There is a grand canyon between MSU and JSU, and it is ever widening.